27 Nov 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Paul made it plain, in his exposure of human depravity in 3:13ff., that it reveals itself through our bodies, in tongues which practice deceit and lips which spread poison, in mouths which are full of cursing and bitterness, in feet which are swift to shed blood, and in eyes which look away from God. Conversely, Christian sanctity shows itself in the deeds of the body. So we are to offer the different parts of our bodies not to sin as ‘instruments of wickedness’ but to God as ‘instruments of righteousness’ (6:13, 16, 19). Then our feet will walk in his paths, our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel, our tongues will bring healing, our hands will lift up those who have fallen, and perform many mundane tasks as well like cooking and cleaning, typing and mending; our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God.
If the first part of Paul’s appeal relates to the presentation of our bodies to God, the second relates to our transformation according to his will. *Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will* (2). This is Paul’s version of the call to nonconformity and to holiness which is addressed to the people of God throughout Scripture. For example, God’s word came to Israel through Moses: ‘You must not do as they do…in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws…’ (Lv. 18:3; cf. 2 Ki. 17:15; Ezk.11:12). Another example is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Surrounded by the false devotion of both Pharisees and pagans, Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not be like them’ (Mt. 6:8). ‘We are not to be like a chameleon which takes its colour from its surroundings.’ And now Paul issues the same summons to the people of God not to be conformed to the prevailing culture, but rather to be transformed. Both verbs are present passive imperatives and denote the continuing attitudes which we are to retain. We must go on refusing to conform to the world’s ways and go on letting ourselves be transformed according to God’s will. J.B.Phillips’s paraphrase catches the alternative: ‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within.’
We human beings seem to be imitative by nature. We need a model to copy, and ultimately there are only two. There is *this world*, literally ‘this age’, which is passing away, and there is *God’s will*, which is *good, pleasing and perfect*. Because the two verbs contain a different word for ‘form’ (*schema* in *syschematizomai*, ‘conform’, and *morphe* in *metamorphoo*, ‘transform’), earlier commentators used to argue that *schema* meant ‘outward appearance’ and *morphe* ‘inward substance’. Thus Sanday and Headlam rendered Paul’s appeal: ‘Do not adopt the external and fleeting fashion of this world, but be ye transformed in your inmost nature’. But because these nouns are often used interchangeably, there is now ‘a large consensus strongly of the opinion that the two verbs…are more or less synonymous.’
More important for our understanding of the transformation which Paul urges is the fact that *metamorphoo* is the verb used by Matthew and Mark of the transfiguration of Jesus. And although the evangelists vary in saying that it was his skin, his face and his clothing which shone, Mark is clear that he himself ‘was transfigured before them’ (Mk.9:2). A complete change came over him. His whole body became translucent, whose significance the disciples would not be able to understand, Jesus implied, until after his resurrection (Mk.9:9). As for the change which takes place in the people of God, which is envisaged in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 (the only other verses in which *Metamorphoo* occurs), it is a fundamental transformation of character and conduct, away from the standards of the world and into the image of Christ himself.
These two value systems (*this world* and *God’s will*) are incompatible, even in direct collision with one another. Whether we are thinking about the purpose of life or the meaning of life, about how to measure greatness or how to respond to evil, about ambition, sex, honesty, money, community, religion or anything else, the two sets of standards diverge so completely that there is no possibility of compromise. No wonder Karl Barth called Christian ethics ‘the great disturbance’, so violently does it challenge, interrupt and upset the tranquil *status quo*.
How then does the transformation take place? *Be transformed* Paul replies, *by the renewing of your mind*. This is because only a renewed mind can *test and approve*, that is, discern, appreciate and determine to obey, *God’s will*. Although Paul does not here tell us how our mind becomes renewed, we know from his other writings that it is by a combination of the Spirit and the Word of God. Certainly regeneration by the Holy Spirit involves the renewal of every part of our humanness, which has been tainted and twisted by the fall, and this includes our mind (E.g. 1 Cor.2:14ff.; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph.4:20ff.; Col. 3:9f.; Tit. 3:5). But in addition, we need the Word of God, which is the Spirit’s ‘sword’ (Eph.6:17), and which acts as an objective revelation of the God’s will (E.g. 1 Thess.2:13; 4:1ff.; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). Here then are the stages of Christian moral transformation: first our mind is renewed by the Word and Spirit of God; then we are able to discern and desire the will of God; and then we are increasingly transformed by it.
To sum up, Paul’s appeal is addressed to the people of God, grounded on the mercies of God, and concerned with the will of God. Only a vision of his mercy will inspire us to present our bodies to him and allow him to transform us according to his will. In particular, his will embraces all our relationships, as Paul now goes on to show – not only to God himself (12:1-2), but also to ourselves (12:3-8), to each other (12:9-16), to evildoers and enemies (12:17-21), to the state (13:1-7), to the law (13:8-10), to the day of Christ’s return (13:11-14) and to the ‘weaker members of the Christian community (14:1-15:13).